Tony Noms Clybourne Park
Credit: Nathan Johnson

Clybourne Park

As the Tony Awards approach (Sunday, June 10), EW takes a closer look at this season’s nominated selection of new musicals, plays, and revivals, all of which will be competing for Broadway’s highest honor. Today, we dive into this year’s nominees for Best Play. (See also: Best Musical and Best Revival of a Musical.)

Tony Noms Clybourne Park
Credit: Nathan Johnson

Peter and the Starcatcher

Opened: April 15, 2012

Starring: Christian Borle, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Adam Chanler-Berat

Written by Rick Elice; music by Wayne Barker; directed by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers

Synopsis: A clever retelling of Peter Pan, Starcatcher re-imagines Peter as a nameless orphan (Chanler-Berat) held captive on a pirate ship called the Neverland and reinvents Captain Hook as a scenery-chewing pirate named Black Stache (Borle). Their paths collide when their ships crash and they’re both marooned — along with a cast of vibrant characters — on a not-so-deserted island.

EW’s Review: “This may be the tale of the future Peter Pan (Adam Chanler-Berat) and his lost-boy pals, but it’s quick-on-the-draw, rubber-limbed Borle who steals the show. The actor’s gifts for physical comedy aren’t exactly highlighted on NBC’s Smash; here, however, he is rewarded with a deliciously juicy part as a malaprop-prone mustachioed pirate — not to mention an astonishing number of facial-hair jokes and goofy random references to Proust and Kelis. B” (Melissa Rose Bernardo)

Tony nominations: 9 — Best Play; Best Score; Best Featured Actor in a Play (Christian Borle); Best Featured Actress in a Play (Celia Keenan-Bolger); Best Direction of a Play (Roger Rees, Alex Timbers); Best Scenic Design of a Play (Paloma Young); Best Lighting Design of a Play (Jeff Croiter); Best Sound Design of a Play (Darron L. West)

Odds on winning: Borle is a critic’s darling, but his impeccable comedic talent is probably no match for Death of a Salesman‘s Andrew Garfieldin the Featured Actor race. A Best Play win would be a welcome surprise, but Starcatcher‘s best chances lie with its creative designers, who created a world from household objects and simple, clever effects. Costume designer Paloma Young’s inventive mermaid costumes literally stop the show, while lighting designer Jeff Croiter and sound designer Darron West may join their colleague for respective awards in their areas as well.

Celia Keenan-Bolger on her Tony odds: “It’s easier if you know you’re not going to win, and I feel that way, which is so nice!” says Keenan-Bolger, who was a nominee for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee in 2005. “It takes off so much pressure! I mean, I hope I will be at the Tony Awards some year where I do think there’s a chance I could, but that is not this year, and so instead I just get to enjoy being with all of these people whom I care about and not stressing about winning.”

Adam Chanler-Berat on a recent Starcatcher slip-up: “Slank, who is this monster of a ship captain, is threatening Molly, played by Celia Keenan-Bolger. He says something like, “I might not have been born with a silver spoon up me bum, but that don’t mean I won’t stir my tea with one.” And he said — and he’s gonna kill me for saying this — he said, ‘I might have been born in a spoon in me bum!’ and that was it, that’s all that came out. Celia, being the pro she is, moved on, but I laughed. I couldn’t contain my excitement and I was giggling through the next good portion of [the next scene], which I have water in my mouth for most of.”

NEXT: Venus in Fur

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

Venus in Fur

Opened: November 8, 2011

Closing: June 17, 2012

Starring: Nina Arianda, Hugh Dancy

Written by David Ives; directed by Walter Bobbie

Synopsis: A chirpy yet dazzling actress (Arianda) meets with a jumpy playwright/director (Dancy) to read for his latest play, but the audition mutates into a turbulent discourse on sadomasochism, dominance, and the delicate balance of power between men and women.

EW’s Review: “Arianda, who originated the role of Vanda Off Broadway in 2010 and made a memorable Tony-nominated Broadway debut last spring in a revival of Born Yesterday, delivers a tour de force performance as Vanda. She has the technique and raw talent of a young Meryl Streep, and she brings an energy, wit, intelligence, and sexiness that are stunning to behold. A– ” (Thom Geier)

Tony nominations: 2 — Best Play; Best Leading Actress in a Play (Nina Arianda)

Odds on winning: Its strong script won’t be enough to lift Venus to the Best Play heavens, but ingenue Arianda is neck and neck with fellow nominee Tracie Bennett (End of the Rainbow) in the Best Leading Actress category. But after making one of the most impressive Broadway debuts in recent memory in last year’s Born Yesterday, Arianda could find herself with her first Tony win this year.

Nina Arianda on her time in the show: “I have had a three-year love affair with Venus in Fur and withVanda. Man, do I love this play and man, do I love this woman. And my God, how rare it is to play such a complex, elegant and strong character. There is as much strength in her vulnerability as there is in her whip. I learn something new about who I am and who I strive to be with each performance. And this is all thanks to the brilliant [playwright] David Ives. There was a talk back a while ago after the show with a group of high school students — and at one point a 15-year-old boy raised his hand and simply said, “I don’t know much about women, but I think all women should be like that woman.” First of all, that kid is in for a hell of a dating life. And secondly — I wholeheartedly agree.”

NEXT: Other Desert Cities

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

Other Desert Cities

Opened: November 3, 2011

Closing: June 17, 2012

Starring: Stockard Channing, Stacy Keach, Judith Light

Written by Jon Robin Baitz; directed by Joe Mantello

Synopsis: Polly (Channing) and Lyman Wyeth (Stacy Keach) host Christmas at their Palm Springs home with their pot-smoking TV producer son, Trip, Polly’s recently rehabilitated sister Silda (Light), and the couple’s spirited daughter, Brooke, whose plans to write a memoir about a family tragedy threaten to shake up the Wyeths’ holiday spirit.

EW’s Review: “It would be a shame to spoil the narrative surprises of Baitz’s witty and well-constructed script, which is as sleek and tasteful as John Lee Beatty’s ’60s-modern set. And the players couldn’t be more perfect… The Wyeths emerge as an all-American family, acting out against each other out of both love and self-interest. And the show’s second-act fireworks seem like a fittingly all-American way to celebrate the arrival of a major new play. A” (Thom Geier)

Tony nominations: 5 — Best Play; Best Leading Actress in a Play (Stockard Channing); Best Featured Actress in a Play (Judith Light); Best Scenic Design of a Play (John Lee Beatty); Best Lighting Design of a Play (Kenneth Posner)

Odds on winning: Light should find herself earning a much-deserved Tony for her ferocious Silda, and Channing can’t be totally ignored in the fight for Best Leading Actress (alongside Tracie Bennett and Nina Arianda). The chances that the production nabs the Best Play crown are lower than the odds in favor of Clybourne Park, but never discount the power of big names like Channing, Light and Keach in impressing Tony voters.

Judith Light on her most embarrassing stage moment: “I did Hedda Gabler for Michael Kahn at the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C., and I believe it was either the first preview or opening night, I came out in this gorgeous gown for my curtain call and fell flat on my face. I still to this day, when I think about it, am mortified. I mean, it was like 10 years ago and it still sticks in there. It’s not a fond memory! I know I should probably let it go and dilute it, but it’s still there!”

Stockard Channing on the show’s positive reviews: “I would say that one is always surprised when you get great reviews. I just had my 300th performance about two weeks ago, and the joy is that if you’re going to do something that long, you hope you’re in a play that you love and it’s rich and keeps on going, so the synchronicity of that is a great treat.”

NEXT: Clybourne Park

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

Clybourne Park

Opened: April 19, 2012

Closing: August 12, 2012

Starring: Jeremy Shamos, Crystal A. Dickinson, Christina Kirk, Damon Gupton

Written by Bruce Norris; directed by Pam Mackinnon

Synopsis: In the first act (set in 1959 Chicago), a white suburban couple spars with race-minded neighbors about their decision to sell their house to a black family (the same one at the center of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun). Act 2 is set 50 years later, when a white couple who wants to buy (and raze) the house discuss stereotypes and ethnosocial relations with members of the mostly black community.

EW’s Review: “Bruce Norris’ drama is indisputably, uproariously funny, and a quietly evocative mediation on the by-no-means-obsolete stereotypes that pervade millennial melting-pot America. A” (Melissa Rose Bernardo)

Tony nominations: 4 — Best Play; Best Featured Actor in a Play (Jeremy Shamos); Best Direction of a Play (Pam Mackinnon); Best Scenic Design of a Play (Daniel Ostling)

Odds on winning: A win for Clybourne‘s nuanced set should be a no-brainer; a win forBest Play isn’t guaranteed, but Clybourne is probably the strongest entry in the category.

Jeremy Shamos on transferring from Off Broadway to Broadway: “Since we’ve been doing our play for two years, it’s pretty ensconced in ourselves. We were Off Broadway and everybody thought we should go to Broadway, but then we didn’t because there were no stars. The fact that now we get to do it and we’re no stars… It’s really fun. We all appreciate it and we don’t take it for granted in any way.”

Director Pam Mackinnon on seeing the show for the first time after its Tony nomination: “I hadn’t seen it since opening night. [I got] a little emotional. This ensemble of actors is very, very dear to me. It also really felt like the audience was really there. It felt like something had happened in the day that the audience was kind of leaning in, so that was really exciting to be part of a room where everyone is sort of like, oh, something happened today, something shifted. That was really exciting.”

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